Sunday, June 3, 2012
Short Milkwort - Polygala ramosa
Short milkwort (Polygala ramosa) is one of 23 species of native milkworts in Florida. Most are found in moist to wet soil habitats and that is definitely the case for this one. Short (or "low pinebarren") milkwort is classified as a wetland species by state and federal agencies and is found statewide in open wet prairies, marsh edges and within wet pockets of pine flatwoods. This is a species of the Southeastern Coastal Plain, and, as such, its overall range extends from parts of Texas to Maryland and New Jersey - states along the coast.
As its common name implies, short milkwort is a relatively short plant, reaching a mature height of about 18-24 inches. It is an annual, and it grows rapidly in the spring to reach this size by early to mid-summer. Each plant has a central stem with linear leaves about 1 inch long and 1/4 inch wide. Like so many species in this genus, the stems and roots exude a sweet smell if crushed.
For much of its short life, short milkwort is rather inconspicuous in the landscape. This changes when flowering occurs, however. Large flat clusters of bright yellow flowers adorn the top of the stems and are quite showy. My single photograph above does not do it justice, but it shows quite clearly the arrangement of the tiny individual flowers on the stems. Other yellow-flowered milkworts are arranged in much "tighter" heads than this species.
Short milkwort has never been sold commercially to my knowledge and its annual nature and wet-soil requirements make it a difficult species to add to anything other than a wetland restoration. Look for this beautiful wildflower from June-August in open wet habitats and simply admire it for what it is.